Over multiple centuries, the Zulu Kingdom of South Africa has had many influential leaders. Many people know the story of the warrior king, Shaka Zulu, but there are plenty more kings that shaped the kingdom. In this blog post, we tell the story of Cetshwayo kaMpande. A legendary king who won great battles for the Zulu Kingdom and is known as the last king of an independent Zulu nation.
Who is Cetshwayo kaMpande?
Born in 1826, Cetshwayo kaMpande was born into royalty as the son of Zulu king Mpande and Queen Ngqumbazi. In his adult life, Cetshwayo kaMpande was known for being a considerable size. He stood close to 6 ft 8 tall and weighed around 25 stone. He became ruler of the Zulu people in 1856 when he defeated his younger brother in the Battle of Ndondakusuka. However, he did not become king as his father was still alive.
The Reign of Cetshwayo kaMpande
Mpande died in 1872, which automatically made Cetshwayo, but to ensure a smooth transition, his death was kept a secret till 1873. On 1 September 1873, Cetshwayo took his place as king and was crowned by Theophilus Shepstone, who worked for Transvaal for Britain.
Going To Battle
In 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, who was the British High Commissioner for South Africa, wanted to unite South Africa. The British had already successfully done this in Canada and felt that it could not be done in South Africa if the nation had a robust and independent Zulu state. To provoke the Zulu King, and ultimately start a battle, Bartle Frere began demanding payment for the Zulu's who lived outside of the Zulu state. At first, Cetshwayo kept calm because he knew the British army's power and followed Frere's rules.
In 1879, Bartle Frere demanded that Cetshwayo surrender his army, but he refused, which led to the Zulu War. After many battles — with both sides winning — the British returned to the Zulu stated with a bigger and better army. The British headed for the Zulu capital, Ulundi, where they won the 45 minute Battle of Ulundi. On 4 July, Ulundi was taken and torched. Cetshwayo was left with nothing and was exiled to Cape Town and then London.
Public Support & Return To Zululand
During his time in London, Lady Florence Dixie, correspondent of the London Morning Post, took an interest in the story of Cetshwayo. In 1881, Dixie began writing articles and books in support of the Zulu king. Because Cetshwayo had a gentle and dignified manner, the public in London started to feel sorry for him. The people believed that Cetshwayo was poorly treated by Sir Henry Bartle Frere and Lord Chelmsford.
In 1883, Cetshwayo returned to Zululand, and the British tried to restore him as the ruler of the state. Even though unsuccessful, Cetshwayo moved to Eshowe, and on 8 February 1884, he died from a heart attack. Rumours did, however, go around that Cetshwayo was poisoned. His body was buried in a field within sight of the forest in Nkandla. The remains of the wagon which carried his corpse to the burial site are now at Ondini Museum, near Ulundi.